NASA’s latest mission aims at helping astronauts learn more about sun radiation and space environment

 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is scheduled to start a new mission on July 1, 2023, which will study solar particle storms, according to a recent press release. The goal of the study is to ultimately help astronauts be safe as they travel on missions to the moon and Mars by providing better information as to how the sun’s radiation affects the space environment. 

The mission is led by Justin Kasper and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. It has been given a budget of $62.6 million. 

“We don’t know if it is going to produce high energy particle radiation and we don’t know if that high energy particle radiation is going to reach Earth,” Kasper said in a university statement. “One reason why is we can’t see the particles being accelerated. We just see them when they arrive at the spacecraft, which isn’t much of a warning.”

In order to achieve this, six tiny satellites will work as one very large radio telescope. The mission is called the Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (sunRISE). 

“It could also result in a unique warning system for whether an event will both produce radiation and release that radiation towards Earth or spacefaring astronauts,” said Kasper. 

This is merely a disturbance when it comes to satellites, but it is dangerous when it comes to humans traveling outside of low-level flight from Earth. 

According to Space.com, “the mission comes amid … an emphasis on solar science and missions that incorporate space-weather prediction into plans for human spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit.”

The director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, Nicky Fox, shared NASA’s view on the matter in a statement Monday.

“We are so pleased to add a new mission to our fleet of spacecraft that help us better understand the Sun, as well as how our star influences the space environment between planets,” Fox said. “The more we know about how the Sun erupts with space weather events, the more we can mitigate their effects on spacecraft and astronauts.”

The mission design relies on the six satellites to observe radio images of low-frequency emissions in solar activity and share them to NASA’s Deep Space Network. They will fly within six miles of each other and create 3D maps to pinpoint where the solar particle storms are coming from. 

For the first time, they will also map the pattern of the magnetic field lines reaching from the Sun out into interplanetary space. 

According to phys.org, a cumulative science site that partners with NASA, “Researchers once thought that only the Sun’s constant outflow of ultraviolet light and particles, the solar wind, could affect the region. However, recently they have learned that solar variability is not enough to drive the changes observed, and Earth’s weather also must be having an effect.” 

This is part of the Explorers Program, which is the oldest continuous NASA program which provides frequent, low-cost access to space using science investigations relevant to the Science Mission Directorate’s astrophysics and heliophysics programs. 

This program is relevant to heliophysics as it has to do with the study of the sun and its interaction with Earth and the solar system. 

According to NASA, “The mission of the Explorers Program is to provide frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space utilizing innovative, streamlined and efficient management approaches within the heliophysics and astrophysics science areas.”

The process to select this mission began in Aug. 2017 and in Feb. 2019 the team wanted to continue to explore the possibilities. Now, it is going to be the next mission in space to explore more about the world around us.